PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Fred Couples is playing with two potential members of his Presidents Cup team this afternoon in Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim. He might want to be keeping an eye on the competition, though.
Of the 12 players at the top of the leaderboard right now who have finished their first rounds in the Northern Trust Open, six are eligible to play for the International Team. Not to mention, five of them are Australians – which should play well when the matches are played at Royal Melbourne Nov. 14-20.
Aussies John Senden, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley are among the six players tied for the lead at 4 under. Two more from Down Under -- Geoff Ogilvy and Stuart Appleby – finished at 2 under while Fiji’s Vijay Singh is among those who shot 68s.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Riviera Country Club may be just what Robert Allenby needed to turn a so-so start into sensational.
The Aussie missed the cut in his first two events and tied for 62nd in Phoenix. But he's a past champion of the Northern Trust Open with three more top-10s since his 2001 victory, so even though he’s been inconsistent early this year to see Allenby tied for the lead is hardly an aberration.
Allenby didn't make a bogey during the first round in shooting 67, which tied for his low round of the year. He hit 8 of 14 fairways, all but four greens in regulation and used just 28 putts.
Normally one of the TOUR's most consistent ball-strikers, Allenby hasn't had the the same confidence off the tee this year. His driving accuracy is just 51 percent (compared with 65 last year) and he's averaging 30 putts per round.
Hence the slow start, and correspondingly, the positive vibes on Thursday.
"I haven't been putting very well, but more I just haven't been driving the ball very well,' Allenby explained. "I did have some new TaylorMade drivers in there, and I changed just back to the old ones just to get some confidence going. I'll change eventually back to the white ones, but at the moment I just need to get some confidence with my swing and get the year started because I haven't really started, really. Not for me anyway.
"But you know, my confidence grew today, and I drove the ball really well. Things are looking good."
Allenby started on the front nine and got things going in the right direction when he holed a 44-footer for birdie at the fifth hole. His other birdie putts came from 10, 6 and 14 feet.
"I made a long one on 5 from just off the front there, which was nice," Allenby said. "I played solid. Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of opportunities for birdies. I probably heft four or five out there within ten feet.
"But you know, you've got to make them and you're going to miss them. These greens are very tricky, they're not easy to read, very subtle breaks out there. But I haven't been playing well coming into this tournament, so I was pretty happy to shoot 4 under." – Helen Ross
Robert Allenby entered the BMW Championship ranked 27th in FedExCup points. After his first seven holes in Friday's second round, Allenby was 4 over for his round and 5 over for the tournament -- and digging his own grave in terms of his Playoffs future.
"I looked at the board and it said I was coming about 64th or something," Allenby said. "I thought, that's not good. I don't want to go home."
So he did something about it. He birdied the par-4 eighth hole thanks to an approach shot that landed within seven feet of the pin. Then after five straight pars, he reeled off four consecutive birdies to salvage a 1-under 70. At even par for the tournament, Allenby was projected to remain inside the top 30 when he finished his round.
But he realizes that nothing will be guaranteed until the final putt drops Sunday.
"It's a long way to go, 36 holes, so I know what I've got to do and I know how I've got to play on the weekend," said Allenby, a four-time winner on TOUR who finished second at THE PLAYERS Championship this year.
He knows he needs to give himself more scoring chances on the weekend.
"My club selections kept coming up short and just putting myself in terrible position," Allenby said. "... My whole game is all there. It's just a matter of getting the mental side right."
When Robert Allenby withdrew in advance of Tuesday knee surgery, he was not replaced in the field for the Bridgestone Invitational. Tee times had already been set, too, so that put Henrik Stenson alone in the 9:50 a.m. draw off the first tee.
So David Champagne, an assistant pro at Firestone Country Club, got the call and he is playing as Stenson’s marker. The Swede just birdied the seventh hole and is 3 over for the tournament.
Robert Allenby, who tied for fourth here last year and was a runner-up in 2008, has withdrawn due to illness.
The Aussie, who has a total of five top-20s in seven career starts at the St. Jude Classic presented by Smith & Nephew and is eighth on the career money list here, played nine holes Thursday before pulling out. In the nine holes he did play, Allenby had four bogeys, a double bogey and two birdies on the back nine at TPC Southwind. -- Brian Wacker
Ernie Els has been the leader in FedExCup points for 10 consecutive weeks, ever since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, his second win of the season.
But Els' reign at the top could come to an end this week at the Memorial. Jim Furyk or Phil Mickelson need to either win or finish in second to overtake Els. Tim Clark or Robert Allenby could overtake Els with a win. Of course, it also depends on how well Els plays this week.
Right now, Els is at 1 under on the second nine of his first round, having bogeyed his last two holes.
No matter what Els does the rest of the year, he may have already sealed up a spot in THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola, the final Playoffs event that will determine the FedExCup champ.
With 1,541 points this year, Els is the only player on the TOUR to have more FedExCup points than the 1,532 points that were required to get into THE TOUR Championship last year.
For complete FedExCup standings, click here .
Due to the two-hour weather delay Thursday morning, tee times for the afternoon groups have been pushed back two hours. Here are a few groups to keep an eye on in the afternoon (along with their adjusted tee times):
2:44 p.m. ET (1st tee) -- Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Jason Bohn. Woods, the four-time Memorial champion, is making his first start since having to withdraw from THE PLAYERS Championship last month with a neck injury. Stricker came back from an injury last week in Fort Worth, finishing T38.
2:44 p.m. ET (10th tee) -- Camilo Villegas, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar. Villegas has not played well in his last two starts, but he does have a win earlier this year at The Honda Classic. Johnson also has a win, having successfully defended his title at Pebble Beach. And Kuchar has played well at Muirfield Village in his last three starts, including a tie for fifth last year.
2:55 p.m. ET (1st tee) -- Tim Clark, Robert Allenby, Adam Scott. Clark and Allenby battled for THE PLAYERS title, with Clark finally breaking through for his first TOUR win. Scott won the Valero Texas Open in his last start.
2:55 p.m. ET (10th tee) -- Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover, J.B. Holmes -- Ogilvy is a past U.S. Open champion. Glover is the defending champ. With the U.S. Open in two weeks, they'll be priming their games.
3:06 p.m. (10th tee) -- Kenny Perry, Mark Wilson, Mark Calcavecchia. Perry has won this event three times; Calcavecchia is making his last TOUR start before embarking on his Champions Tour career.
How close did Robert Allenby’s birdie putt come to going in the hole on the par-3 17th Sunday at THE PLAYERS Championship?
“It went up to the hole, stayed on top then rolled back about an inch,” said Allenby, who came up one stroke short of forcing a playoff with Tim Clark at TPC Sawgrass. “That was probably the most disbelief that I've ever witnessed, especially in those circumstances, knowing that it's got to go in to tie Tim. For it to go up to the hole and take a little look over the top and then come back, that was a bit rude.”
Allenby had a chance to extend the tournament with a birdie on the next hole, too, but what he’ll be remembered for here this week is that putt. Another half-roll, maybe even a quarter-roll, and it drops.
“I thought that putt was in,” Allenby said. “It was a very bumpy looking line and track all the way to the hole, a lot of spike marks and stuff. But I really did think it was going to get to the hole.”
If not for one spike mark in particular, it might have. There was a spiked up piece of grass just at the front edge and the hole was slightly raised up.
“Obviously they put nothing on [the greens]. That's why they were just brown, no greenness to them, and they were super, super slick,” Allenby said. “I can't tell you how some putts are so nerve wracking because they were just so slick. You could tap it, and that ball could just get away from you very, very easily. So you really had to be in control of what you were doing and your emotions, as well.
“That was a putt that if I hit it a little bit too firm, I could lip it out on the high side and go six feet past. My main goal was I picked my line to just get to the hole, and I hit it exactly the way I wanted to do it. I know I hit a good putt.”
Just not good enough, though it’s hard to fault Allenby whose 2-under 70 was better than average on a day when the field average was more than two strokes over par.
“Obviously the golfing Gods were with Tim today, and I can accept that,” Allenby said. “I did everything that I could possibly do to try and win the tournament.” -- Brian Wacker
Robert Allenby’s birdie putt from 11 feet on the par-3 17th came up agonizingly short, missing barely on the low side of the hole. After he missed the putt, it looked like Allenby was about to walk right off the green into the water. He didn’t, obviously, and he recovered nicely, splitting the fairway with a 3-wood on the 18th hole, where he needs a birdie from 214 yards to force a playoff with Tim Clark.
Lee Westwood, meanwhile, got wet on No. 17, coming up just short of the green to wash away any chance he had of winning. -- Brian Wacker
Lee Westwood and Robert Allenby continue to trade places atop the leaderboard here in the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship. Right now, it’s Westwood back on top at 15 under after Allenby three-putted for bogey on No. 6.
That said, this might turn into a two-man race with Tim Clark and Ben Crane the closest pursuers two shots back. It’s an interesting one, too, with Westwood a very good putter but sometimes crooked off the tee and Allenby a very good player off the tee but sometimes crooked with his putter. -- Brian Wacker